Debate on Land Reform Takes Place in Absence of the CPP

Civil society groups held a workshop in Phnom Penh on Thursday in which government officials and lawmakers were invited to discuss post-election land grabs and land-based conflict, although the ruling CPP failed to turn up to the event.

Though incidents of land-grabbing appeared to decrease ahead of July’s national election, there were widespread reports of fresh land grabs within a few days of the CPP’s self-declared victory, said Vann Sophath, coordinating officer for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ (CCHR) land reform program.

There are currently 33 separate ongoing cases of land conflict across 17 provinces, including in Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri and Koh Kong, where vast swaths of forested and community land have been claimed by economic land concessions, Mr. Sophath said at the event, which CCHR hosted alongside the Community Legal Education Center and Equitable Cambodia at the Intercontinental Hotel.

“It is the politics of this government that have provoked land conflict on a large scale, and after five parliamentary elections the situation is getting worse, not better,” he said.

The forum coincides with the release of a new report by the CCHR titled Cambodia: Land in Conflict, which presents an overview of the causes and impacts of land grabs throughout the country and makes recommendations on how to resolve conflicts.

“The ruling party did not come [to the workshop] because they don’t want to meet villagers who are facing these problems because the CPP always avoids problems,” Mr. Sophath said.

Speaking at the workshop, Khut Chanra, a villager from Mondolkiri province, appealed for the government to halt economic land concessions and social land concessions as they overlapped with his ethnic community’s ancestral land.

“Recently, the government granted a 3,000 hectare social land concession without informing our community, even though it will bury our farmland,” he said.

CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua, who was a guest speaker at the forum, used the opportunity to call once again for a re-election.

“[During the election], we visited villagers who screamed of their hopelessness at losing land, and these villagers told me and especially Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha not to create a joint government…. The majority of people voted for change,” she said.

National Assembly spokesman and CPP lawmaker Cheang Vun said Thursday that government lawmakers had no time to attend discussions held by NGOs.

“We don’t have free time to debate useless issues. We are busy with state work,” he said, declining to comment on whether he believed land grabs had increased after the election.

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